Cantor sees 'divide' within Republican Party

The House majority leader calls for unity as GOP prepares for votes on leadership

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WASHINGTON -- Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, said Sunday that he saw a troublesome division within the Republican Party as he discussed his stunning primary defeat, which many are assessing for possible evidence that the Tea Party is regaining steam among Republicans.

Although Mr. Cantor said in a separate interview, on CNN's "State of the Union," that the party's internal struggle "pales in comparison" to its differences with Democrats, he said Republicans need to resolve their party's own clash.

"I think that what we need to focus on, and I'm hopeful that I'll be able to do something about, bridging this divide," he said during an appearance on the ABC program "This Week." "There is a divide within our party."

Mr. Cantor would not identify any particular reason for his loss, although he said it took him by surprise.

"I don't think anybody in the country thought that the outcome would be what it was," he said.

Mr. Cantor's loss kicked off a scramble for Republican leadership positions in the House. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, who now holds the No. 3 majority whip job, is expected to win Mr. Cantor's position in a vote of House Republicans set for Thursday.

Republicans seemed intent last week on presenting a front united against President Barack Obama rather than divided among themselves. But the defeat of Mr. Cantor -- believed to be a leading candidate to replace Speaker John Boehner someday -- by a candidate who hammered him as insufficiently conservative prompted renewed concerns among many Republicans about an internal clash.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, denied Sunday that Mr. Cantor's loss signals a split within the party.

"I don't think it's divided at all," he said on the CBS program "Face the Nation." "I think you have districts that are 85 percent Republican and more than one Republican wants to be a congressman, and sometimes more than one person wants to be a senator."

Mr. Cantor again defended his stance on immigration, which David Brat, his opponent, has called soft. Mr. Cantor emphasized that he has always opposed "comprehensive amnesty" but also supported an option for children brought to the United States by their guardians.

"My position on immigration has not changed," he said on CNN. "It was the way it was before the primary, during and now."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who defeated several Tea Party challengers in South Carolina's primary last week, said on CBS that Republicans need to adopt a stance on a legal pathway to citizenship.

"I don't think Eric got beat because of his stand on immigration," he said. "I think he got beat because his lack of defining himself on immigration."

Hoping to minimize infighting, Mr. Cantor quickly announced last week that he would resign as majority leader, setting up Republican leadership elections this Thursday.

Asked Sunday whether he would vote for Mr. Brat in November, Mr. Cantor, who said he was not ready to close the door on a continued future in politics, maintained that he would support his party.

"I want a Republican to continue to hold this seat," he said on "State of the Union."

Reuters News Service contributed.

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